FCS freshmen wasting no time making their mark

(STATS) - What South Dakota defensive end Andrew Van Ginkel lacks in experience, he's more than made up for in performance.

So when the Missouri Valley Football Conference's leader in sacks and tackles for loss makes yet another trademark play behind the line of scrimmage, it's easy to assume he's an upperclassman.

But seniority continues to be checked at the door for talent in FCS football, and the redshirt freshman is, in fact, a whole lot closer to his high school graduation than his college one.

Midway through the FCS regular season, many teams know they can count on particular first-year players, whether true or redshirt freshmen, especially on special teams. Coaches are always looking for the next best thing.

Sometimes it comes faster than expected.

Van Ginkel's skills were on display on South Dakota's scout team last season, so Coyotes coach Joe Glenn and his staff got an early preview of his breakout campaign. In five games, Van Ginkel has 9.5 tackles for loss and five sacks among his 26 tackles. The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder also has two quarterback hurries, a fumble recovery, a forced fumble and a blocked kick.

But Van Ginkel is far from alone in making an immediate impact this season. There are plenty of freshmen doing just that.

The Big Sky Conference, CAA Football and Ohio Valley Conference have some of the deeper freshman classes in the FCS.

In the Big Sky, Northern Arizona's Case Cookus is carving his niche in a conference with a rich tradition of quarterbacks. He's second in the FCS in passing efficiency (189.0) and first among FCS freshmen in passing yards per game (235.7). Most impressive, though, are his 15 touchdown passes to two interceptions.

North Dakota's John Santiago leads all freshman running backs with 597 rushing yards - just a half-yard shy of averaging 100 per game - and in all-purpose yards per game (165.5), with six touchdowns.

And don't forget the defense - which sometimes the high-scoring Big Sky does - as Eastern Washington's Alek Kacmarcik is one of the better young linebackers in the nation.

Within the CAA, Albany boasts the leading freshman pass catcher in the FCS in Zee Roberson (34 receptions), while Maine's Micah Wright is best among frosh with 434 receiving yards. In addition, Delaware running back Thomas Jefferson has rushed for 514 yards on over six yards per carry and Albany linebacker Julian Cox has a well-balanced statistical line.

Some of the big play in the OVC is coming from Tennessee State quarterback Oshay Ackerman-Carter, who beat out former all-conference selection Ronald Butler for the No. 1 job, Austin Peay running back Kendall Morris and UT Martin linebacker Kevin Prather Jr.

Across the FCS, other freshman standouts include Stephen F. Austin running back Loren Easly, Southern Illinois all-purpose threat Daquan Isom, The Citadel running back Evan McField, Monmouth quarterback Cody Williams, Bethune-Cookman linebacker Trenton Bridges, San Diego quarterback Anthony Lawrence and East Tennessee State linebacker Dylan Weigel, whose 55 tackles lead all freshmen.

By November, coaches say first-years are basically no longer freshmen anyway.

Some just got a quicker start on the maturation.

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FCS GAME OF THE WEEK=

The Matchup: Bethune-Cookman (5-1, 3-0 MEAC) at North Carolina A&T (4-1, 2-0)

The Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET at Aggie Stadium in Greensboro, North Carolina

The Series: Bethune-Cookman leads, 22-14 (most recent: Bethune-Cookman won 28-12 at home on Oct. 6, 2012)

The Skinny: Bethune-Cookman has won at least a share of four of the last five MEAC championships, but North Carolina A&T was chosen as the conference's preseason favorite after being a part of the five-way share of first place last year. Senior quarterback Quentin Williams has stepped up his play running the Bethune offense, playing with both confidence and efficiency. A&T defensive end Angelo Keyes will be keying on Williams, though, so the Aggies need to get big efforts from running backs Anthony Jordan and Michael Jones. Leading tacklers Robert Way, Trenton Bridges and Diquan Richardson have led a rebuilt defense, which returned only two starters from last season. Bethune has yet to solve a penalty problem which has plagued it in recent seasons (the Wildcats are averaging 10 penalties per game). A&T leads the MEAC in total defense (274.6 ypg) and ranks second in scoring defense (20.2 ppg), getting terrific seasons out of Keyes, defensive tackle Marquis Ragland and cornerback Tony McRae. MEAC rushing leader Tarik Cohen (106 yards per game, seven touchdowns) is known for his breakaway speed, but he was a workhorse last Saturday with 36 carries at Norfolk State. Coach Rod Broadway, coming off his 100th career win, might utilize two QBs, Kwashaun Quick and Lamar Raynard. The Aggies are much stronger than Bethune on special teams, especially with their returners.

The Prediction: This is one of the more pivotal games as the MEAC gets closer to handing out its Celebration Bowl bid. A&T let an outright conference title slip away last season. This season is about making amends. North Carolina A&T, 26-17.

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ALL THE PICKS=

Last Week's Record: 43-15 (.741)

Overall Record: 336-69 (.830)

(All Times ET; X-Predicted Winner)

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THURSDAY, OCT. 15=

X-Alabama State (2-4, 2-3 SWAC) at Arkansas-Pine Bluff (1-4, 0-3), 7:30 p.m.

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SATURDAY, OCT. 17=

Bucknell (3-2) at X-Army West Point (1-5), noon

X-Princeton (4-0, 1-0 Ivy) at Brown (2-2, 0-1), noon

Davidson (1-4, 0-2 Pioneer) at X-Butler (3-2, 1-1), noon

X-Dartmouth (4-0) at Central Connecticut State (2-4), noon

X-Colgate (2-4, 1-0 Patriot) at Georgetown (3-3, 1-0), noon

X-No. 13 Richmond (4-1, 2-0 CAA) at Rhode Island (1-5, 1-2), noon - Richmond's version of thunder and lightning are senior running backs Seth Fisher and Jacobi Green. But the Spiders need to set a web for URI's Harold Cooper, who leads CAA Football in all-purpose yards.

No. 19 New Hampshire (3-2, 1-1 CAA) at X-No. 24 William & Mary (3-2, 2-1), noon - It's only the Tribe's second game in Williamsburg as they start a three-game homestand. UNH projects quarterback Sean Goldrich to return from a high ankle sprain after he missed the last three games.

X-Duquesne (4-2, 1-0 NEC) at Bryant (2-3, 0-1), 1 p.m.

Holy Cross (2-2, 0-1 Patriot) at X-No. 10 Fordham (5-1, 1-0), 1 p.m. - Fast-starting Fordham linebacker Stephen Hodge must be shooting for national comeback player of the year after he missed last season with an ACL tear.

Edward Waters at X-Jacksonville (5-0), 1 p.m.

X-Gardner-Webb (2-3, 1-0 Big South) at Kennesaw State (4-1, 0-0), 1 p.m.

X-No. 22 Liberty (3-3, 0-1 Big South) at Monmouth (2-4, 0-1), 1 p.m. - All-America wide receiver Darrin Peterson needs 61 receiving yards to eclipse Liberty's all-time school record and 69 yards to break the Big South record.

X-Hampton (3-3, 2-2 MEAC) at Morgan State (3-2, 3-0), 1 p.m.

Bethune-Cookman (5-1, 3-0 MEAC) at X-North Carolina A&T (4-1, 2-0), 1 p.m. - The FCS Game of the Week.

Cornell (0-4) at X-Sacred Heart (3-2), 1 p.m.

X-Campbell (3-3, 1-2 Pioneer) at Stetson (1-4, 0-3), 1 p.m.

X-No. 6 Chattanooga (4-1, 2-0 Southern) at VMI (1-5, 0-2), 1:30 p.m. - Collecting six sacks in his last three games, Mocs defensive end Keionta Davis is no longer in the shadow of three-time SoCon defensive player of the year Davis Tull. VMI has surrendered the most sacks (16) in the conference.

Jackson State (1-4, 1-2 SWAC) at X-Alabama A&M (1-4, 1-2), 2 p.m.

X-Charleston Southern (4-1, 1-0 Big South) at Presbyterian (1-5, 0-1), 2 p.m.

X-North Carolina Central (2-3, 1-1 MEAC) at Savannah State (1-4, 1-2), 2 p.m.

Howard (0-5, 0-3 MEAC) at X-South Carolina State (2-3, 1-1), 2 p.m.

X-No. 14 Eastern Kentucky (3-2, 2-0 OVC) at Southeast Missouri State (2-4, 1-1), 2 p.m. - Tricky game for an EKU squad that owns a 22-3 series lead. But watch out if quarterback Bennie Coney stays on a roll because running back Dy'Shawn Mobley is getting healthier.

X-Dayton (5-0, 2-0 Pioneer) at Valparaiso (1-4, 1-2), 2 p.m.

Western Carolina (3-2, 1-1 Southern) at X-Wofford (3-3, 1-1), 2 p.m.

Grambling State (4-2, 4-0 SWAC) at X-Alcorn State (4-1, 3-0), 3 p.m.

X-No. 5 James Madison (6-0, 3-0 CAA) at Elon (2-4, 1-2), 3 p.m. - Led by quarterback Vad Lee being named CAA offensive player of the week three times, JMU players have earned eight weekly conference awards in the program's best-ever start to a season.

Delaware State (0-5, 0-2 MEAC) at X-Florida A&M (0-6, 0-5), 3 p.m.

X-Texas Southern (2-3, 1-3 SWAC) at Mississippi Valley State (0-6, 0-4), 3 p.m.

X-No. 4 Illinois State (2-3, 2-0 Missouri Valley) at Missouri State (3-2, 0-2), 3 p.m. - Changes at wide receiver were a major concern for Illinois State going into the season and only junior Anthony Warrum has provided significant production. If the Redbirds want another deep postseason run, they can't wear down All-America running back Marshaun Coprich.

The Citadel (3-2, 2-0 Southern) at X-Samford (3-2, 1-1), 3 p.m.

X-Southern Illinois (2-3, 1-1 Missouri Valley) at No. 21 Indiana State (3-2, 1-1), 3:05 p.m. - The host Sycamores are getting healthier with the return of running back LeMonte Booker and linebacker Kendall Walker. SIU put up 73 points on Missouri State last Saturday.

UC Davis (1-5, 1-2 Big Sky) at X-Northern Colorado (3-2, 1-2), 3:35 p.m.

X-No. 9 Sam Houston State (3-2, 3-1 Southland) at Abilene Christian (2-3, 2-2), 3:30 p.m. - Bearkats quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe received his first start a week ago, but it doesn't seem to matter whose under center as the UAB transfer and Jared Johnson combine to direct the FCS' highest-scoring offense (49.4 ppg).

X-No. 25 Villanova (2-3, 1-1 CAA) at Albany (2-4, 1-2), 3:30 p.m. - 'Nova has to win five of its final six games to have a shot at the FCS playoffs. The next five are the most manageable before the regular season finale at James Madison.

X-Penn (1-3, 0-1 Ivy) at Columbia (1-3, 0-1), 3:30 p.m.

X-No. 18 Harvard (4-0) at Lafayette (1-5), 3:30 p.m. - Sure the record is perfect, but the following statistics represent bliss for Crimson coach Tim Murphy: they haven't allowed a sack or lost a fumble and have thrown only one interception.

Yale (3-1) at X-Maine (2-3), 3:30 p.m.

South Dakota (3-2, 0-2 Missouri Valley) at X-No. 2 North Dakota State (4-1, 2-0), 3:30 p.m. - That senior cornerbacks Jordan Champion and C.J. Smith were two of the four returning starters on defense is evident in the fact NDSU opponents are completing only 47.2 percent of pass attempts.

No. 16 Montana State (3-2, 2-1 Big Sky) at X-No. 17 Portland State (4-1, 1-1), 3:30 p.m. - The visiting Bobcats bring in an eight-game win streak in the series as they match the Big Sky's top-scoring offense against Portland State's top-scoring defense.

Wagner (0-5, 0-1 NEC) at X-Saint Francis (2-2, 0-0), 3:30 p.m.

East Tennessee State (0-5) at X-Mercer (2-3), 4 p.m.

Houston Baptist (1-4, 0-3 Southland) at X-Nicholls (0-5, 0-3), 4 p.m.

No. 7 South Dakota State (4-1, 1-1 Missouri Valley) at X-No. 11 Youngstown State (3-2, 1-1), 4 p.m. - It's a huge game for both teams, especially YSU considering its late-season collapses in recent seasons. First-year Penguins coach Bo Pelini, the former Nebraska mentor, is coaching in his 100th career game, with a 70-29 overall record.

X-No. 8 Eastern Washington (3-2, 2-0 Big Sky) at Idaho State (2-4, 1-2), 4:35 p.m. - After scoring in 61 straight quarters, EWU has posted goose eggs in three of its last seven. Against Idaho State, running back Jabari Wilson may be just as important as quarterback Jordan West and wide receiver Cooper Kupp.

X-UT Martin (3-2, 2-1 OVC) at Austin Peay (0-6, 0-3), 5 p.m.

Drake (3-3, 2-1 Pioneer) at X-San Diego (3-2, 2-1), 5 p.m.

Prairie View A&M (3-2, 3-1 SWAC) at X-Southern (3-2, 3-0), 5 p.m.

Western Illinois (3-2, 2-0 Missouri Valley) at X-No. 12 Northern Iowa (2-3, 0-2), 5 p.m. - There isn't a worse road schedule in the FCS than WIU facing Illinois, Coastal Carolina, UNI, Illinois State, North Dakota State and Indiana State. In fact, it's one of the toughest in FCS history.

Towson (2-3, 0-2 CAA) at X-Stony Brook (2-2, 1-2), 6 p.m.

X-No. 15 McNeese State (5-0, 4-0 Southland) at Central Arkansas (3-2, 3-0), 7 p.m. - Cowboys quarterback Daniel Sams has 1,000 career rushing yards at two different schools (Kansas State and McNeese State).

X-Lamar (3-2, 2-1 Southland) at Northwestern State (0-5, 0-3), 7 p.m.

X-Eastern Illinois (2-3, 2-0 OVC) at Tennessee State (3-2, 0-2), 7 p.m.

X-No. 1 Jacksonville State (4-1, 2-0 OVC) at Tennessee Tech (2-4, 1-2), 7 p.m. - OVC rushing leader Troymaine Pope is averaging 9.1 yards per carry. Tech is averaging a shade under that every three carries.

Stephen F. Austin (1-5, 1-3 Southland) at X-No. 23 Southeastern Louisiana (3-2, 2-1), 8 p.m. - The Lions have to shake off the cobwebs from facing the McNeese State defense, but they have won their last 14 home games in the regular season.

Sacramento State (1-5, 0-3 Big Sky) at X-Southern Utah (3-2, 2-0), 8 p.m.

North Dakota (4-2, 2-1 Big Sky) at X-Weber State (3-3, 2-1), 8 p.m.

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